A redacted FBI affidavit used to convince a judge to approve a search warrant for former President Trump’s Florida home noted that authorities found 184 classified documents in their initial review of recovered boxes in an effort that began just a few months after he left office.

Authorities’ concern that Trump may have additional national security information at his private residence was spurred by a review of the 15 boxes recovered by the National Archives in January.

The affidavit indicates that among the 184 documents were 25 that contained top secret information, including those gained from “clandestine human sources,” information prohibited from being shared with foreign governments, and information obtained by monitoring “foreign communications signals.”

The 28-page affidavit contains numerous redactions but indicates authorities believed “evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed” would be found at Mar-a-Lago.

Entirely redacted is a provision explaining why the government believed additional “classified [national defense information]” would be found on the premises.

In a separate filing explaining the rationale behind its redactions, DOJ said it had to protect “a broad range of civilian witnesses,” warning they would likely face intimidation.  

The same federal magistrate judge who approved the search ordered DOJ to release the affidavit that convinced him to approve the warrant. Judge Bruce Reinhart concluded Thursday that proposed redactions from DOJ were narrow enough to allow for public disclosure while protecting their ongoing investigation.  

The affidavit offers new information about the extent of the saga to recover documents from Mar-a-Lago. The document says the National Archives first reached out about retrieving records as early as May 6, 2021 – just a few months after Trump left office.

Yet it wasn’t until late that year that the Trump team alerted Archives that they had 12 boxes ready for pick up. The agency would instead leave with 15.

The release of the redacted affidavit follows the disclosure of the warrant that allowed for the search of Trump’s home, indicating that storing documents there may have violated the Espionage Act, as well as two other statutes.

One bars concealing, removing and mutilating government documents, and the other prohibits similar actions when done “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence [an] investigation.” 

An inventory released alongside the warrant indicated the FBI recovered 11 different sets of classified documents during the search, along with information about “the president of France” and Trump’s pardon of his ally Roger Stone. 

The affidavit consistently refers to the possibility of finding “national defense information” at Trump’s home, a term used in the Espionage Act. The law does not require mishandling classified materials, only information that if released could injure the United States.

In a statement from Trump shortly after the affidavit’s release, the former president called the document “a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ” that was not reflective of “our close working relationship regarding document turnover – WE GAVE THEM MUCH.”

But the affidavit counters some of the prior statements from Trump and his legal team.

While in prior statements Trump noted that he put a larger lock on his storage room at Mar-a-Lago at the request of the government – “We agreed. They were shown the secured area, and the boxes themselves” – the interaction does not appear to be as friendly as Trump suggested.

“They have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location. Accordingly, we ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice,” the Justice Department wrote in a June 8 letter.

That correspondence came after DOJ had already issued a May subpoena requesting Trump return classified materials kept at Mar-a-Lago.

An included letter from Trump’s team also seems to indicate that they were aware that same month that the former president could face charges.

“Any attempt to impose criminal liability on a President or former President that involves his actions with respect to documents marked classified would implicate grave constitutional separation-of powers issues. Beyond that, the primary criminal statute that governs the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material does not apply to the President,” an attorney for Trump wrote in a May 25 letter.

But that letter references a statute that was ultimately not listed among those included in the warrant for searching Trump’s home. Trump’s attorneys imply he is immune from charges under a law dealing with unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents. Violating that law now triggers felony charges rather than a misdemeanor following a bill passed by Republicans and signed into law by Trump.

Trump has not been charged in connection with the search, and the affidavit does not name him as having potentially violated various statutes, instead saying evidence of violations may be found at the premises.

Trump had called for the release of both the warrant and the affidavit. He filed a separate case, however, seeking an injunction to stall the FBI’s investigation and asking a court to appoint a special master for the case. Doing so would let an outside party approved by the court first review the evidence taken during the search before the FBI can review it. 

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